Friday, January 14, 2011

Auto industry off to a fast start in the Motor City

After years of challenges, the news out of Detroit this week has automobile industry experts hopeful for a strong 2011. The 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit kicked off this week and as the world’s attention is on the Motor City, we thought it was time to take a closer look at what consumers are most interested in as it applies to cars and trucks.

Google’s North American Auto Team, headquartered out of Detroit with teams in NYC and California, works with auto makers, parts suppliers and agencies across the country to help market their latest and greatest. Like everyone else, we’re hopeful for a continued recovery across the industry and continue to be impressed by our clients’ creativity and innovation. NADA’s (National Automobile Dealers Association) chief economist Paul Taylor put it best when he recently said, “A revitalized auto industry benefits everyone—every consumer, every dealer and every manufacturer."

Each January, as the North American International Auto Show opens, we see a surge in searches related to new car models (the Hyundai Curb, for example) leading to a peak of interest in the summer—due in large part to special offers—and this year is no exception. Using Insights for Search, let’s take a closer look at what consumers are interested in and what the world is searching for in cars and trucks.

Over the last 30 days in the U.S., Ford tops the list of search queries in the entire automotive brand category, followed by BMW, Audi and Nissan.

Consumers and car shoppers in the United States are also searching for vehicles featured in movies, music and video games. Specifically, searches for [jeep black ops]—a vehicle featured in the video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” released in November—recently saw record highs. And with the release of the feature film “Green Hornet,” searches in the automotive category for both [green hornet] and [black beauty], the name of the car in the movie, are at record levels. Searches for [chrysler imperial] (the make of the Black Beauty) are also making a comeback. Finally, searches for [aston martin] and [aston martin music] are breakout terms, perhaps due to the hip-hop song “Aston Martin Music” by Rick Ross.

With more than 700 new car models on display (including the new Audi A8 with built-in Google Earth navigation) at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show and headed to dealer showrooms, consumers will have unprecedented choices in what they can drive this year. At the Detroit Show, auto makers from Detroit and abroad are showing off all-new sedans, sports cars, trucks and SUVs, led by the Chevrolet Volt which was named Car of the Year and the all-new Ford Explorer—which won 2011 Truck of the Year at the show. But based on data from Insights for Search, 2011 appears poised to be the year of the “crossover.” Consumer interest in the category has steadily risen over the past few years and some of the hottest car models in search—like [nissan juke], [honda crosstour] and [mitsubishi outlander]—are all crossovers.

Other trends may bode well for the auto industry in America. Searches in the auto financing subcategory for January 2009 through December of 2010 show a steady decrease in popularity in auto financing-related terms like [lease], [car loan] and [car calculator]—a signal that some interpret to mean financing of cars may not be a hurdle like it has been in past years.

At the other end of the purchase spectrum, luxury car and truck brands saw a smaller dip than other auto segments the past few years. Luxury buyers aren’t waiting for deals; rather, they’re looking to upgrade, and smart marketers are connecting with these shoppers. Factors like safety and entertainment drive purchases for luxury car buyers more than price and financing. Interestingly, in the luxury market, consumers are doing their car-buying research from their mobile phones. In fact, according to our latest research, 8% of luxury buyers used a mobile phone at the very beginning of their car buying research, 43% of luxury buyers used a mobile phone in the middle of their search and 28% of luxury buyers used a mobile phone at the very end of their car buying search. Savvy marketers like BMW, Mercedes Benz, Audi and Infiniti are capitalizing on the opportunity as they target specific marketing campaigns to consumers and car shoppers' mobile devices.

And finally, our data reveals that searches for [minivan] were up year over year—perhaps thanks to the creative folks over at Toyota and their “Swagger Wagon.” Although still not considered hip by everyone, it seems that predictions of a minivan comeback were right on target.

2011 is shaping up to be comeback year for not just Detroit, but for the entire auto industry. As a third generation Detroit-based automotive industry worker, I couldn’t be more excited for the future of Auto. The auto business is a great place to work and we have better things ahead of us. As the Motown great Stevie Wonder once said, “No one's gonna bring us down, oh no, 'til we reach our highest ground.”


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